Prey 14.4

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“Me?”  Tattletale quirked an eyebrow.

“Sure,” Chariot said.  Just behind and to one side of him, Glory Girl was glaring at Tattletale.  She looked like she was ready to hit people.  It was the kind of latent hostility I was used to seeing in Bitch.

“Not terribly fair to my teammates, if it’s just a one-on-one conversation.”

“Are you going to take this or not?” Chariot asked, his hand still extended in her direction.

“No real point,” Tattletale shrugged.  She tucked her hair behind her ear and turned her head.  “Already have one.”

Battery stepped forward, glancing over at our team, “This one is already set to the encrypted channel, it’s faster if-”

Tattletale interrupted, “Uplink three-three-five, encryption forty-two mod three-four-two-one-zero-zero-six-six-three-one-zero-”

“You have access to our channel,” Battery growled, interrupting Tattletale’s spiel of numbers.

Tattletale shrugged.  “Have for a while now.”

Battery raised one hand to her ear.

“Yeah, Battery,” Tattletale grinned, “Let’s do as the Director says and get down to business.”

Battery drew a phone from her belt and tapped her fingers on the keypad for a moment.  She gave Tattletale a dark look as she held the phone out.

A woman’s voice said, “Not like you to tip your hand, Tattletale.”

“Director.  Are we really going to pretend you didn’t know I was listening in?  You’ve been putting out misleading details to screw with my information gathering.  Done quite a good job of it, if I may say so myself.  Very subtle, all of it just right enough that even I was thrown off.  Couldn’t trust much of it.”

“Thank you.”

“And you did catch me off guard here.  I didn’t expect you to contact me.”

“You’ve been busy, your groups.  Fighting Burnscar in the Docks, I gather that didn’t go so well,” the Director said, pausing.

I didn’t even want to think about that.  I hadn’t been back to check on my people or my territory since then.  We had been busy.

“Then you ambush the Nine, capturing two, one of whom you enslaved, but you lose one of your own in the process.  You mount a rescue attempt.  I take it that you were successful?”

“Grue’s here,” Battery informed her.  “But he looks different.”

“So they were successful.  And now we find the Undersiders mounting a pincer attack, with this group targeting Siberian?  I suspect you’re crossing the threshold of fearlessness and entering into foolishness.”

That last comment nettled me.  I spoke up, “The Nine don’t really leave you alone once you’ve scored a win.  We had to seize our advantage.”

“I see.”

“And she has a weakness.  Siberian, I mean,” Tattletale said.

“Do tell?”

“She’s a projection.  Like Genesis is, as I’m sure you’re aware.  Like Crusader’s duplicates.  A quirk in reality that draws from her creator’s brain to create a body complete with all the physiological substructure.  Which is largely for aesthetic effect, and I’d guess it gives her real self something the brain is familiar with controlling anyways.”

“And the controller is vulnerable?”  There was a note of interest in the Director’s voice.

“Particularly vulnerable.  She can’t extend her invincibility over her real body.”

“I’m not sure I believe this.  The Nine would have discovered this and I doubt the baser members could resist taking advantage of such a weakness.”

“The power has range.  I suspect the creator can stay miles away and still manage some control, but ventures closer for voyeuristic purposes or because it offers more control and faster response times.”

“Much like Regent, hmm?”

Tattletale paused.  “So you know that.”

From the tone of the conversation, I would have expected a ‘No, you just told me.‘, but Tattletale wouldn’t have done that.  More likely that her power confirmed her thoughts.

“Shadow Stalker debriefed us.  What do we know about this woman who controls-”

“Man.  The person who projects Siberian is male.  But he creates a female body.  I think it’s tied into his trigger event.  Someone he lost.  If I had to guess, he sought revenge for her, but something happened.  A side effect of the power, or just a seriously unhinged mental state… he lost it.”

“I see.  Thank you for the information.  Unfortunately none of those possibilities are narrow enough that we can use them to track him down.”

“Not in the short-term.  In the long-term-”

“I don’t intend for there to be a long-term, Tattletale.  This ends today.”

Tattletale paused.  “What did you do?”


“You’re planning something.  Something you’re wanting to keep a secret, and it’s big.”

“Tattletale, you’ve been observing and gathering information on the PRT for some time now.  Do you think I’m a stupid woman?”

Stupid?  No.  Genius?  No.”

There was the sound of a dry laugh from the other end of the phone.  “No, I admit that’s true.  But I’d like to think I’m resourceful.  I’m fighting in a ring where my opponents are bigger, stronger, smarter, faster and better equipped than I am, and the cost of failure on my end is far greater than it is for any of you.  You understand?  I’m competent, and I wouldn’t waste my time trying to pull the wool over your eyes.”


“No secrets.  I’d planned to bait you here with the same subtle offers of information you praised me for earlier, but you’re here anyways, so I’ll tell you what I’m planning.  In a matter of minutes, we firebomb the area where the main group of the Nine are situated.”

“That’s insane,” I spoke.

“Was that Skitter?”

“Yeah,” Battery replied.

“It’s necessary, Skitter,” the Director told me.

“It’s breaking the rules between capes.  The same rules that hold things together in an Endbringer event.  We’re fighting a common enemy.”

“True, but not the full story.  We made no agreement of cooperation, and so there can be no betrayal here.”

“My teammates are there, fighting the Nine, and they’re doing it for this city.  You’d be punishing them for that.”

“Legend did warn them that they shouldn’t.  He was told to, I quote, ‘suck shit’.”

That would be BitchOr maybe ImpProbably Bitch.

Tattletale quirked an eyebrow, “Did he specifically tell them they shouldn’t because you’re bombing the neighborhood?”

“Would you believe me if I said he didn’t get the chance?”

“I’d say fifty percent of it is that he didn’t get the chance, and fifty percent is that he didn’t try that hard.”

The Director offered a noncommittal ‘mm hmm’ in reply.

“And you’re telling us this because?”

“Because we’ve studied you.  We know what you prioritize, and I believe that you’ll enter the fray to save your teammates.”

“Or we could phone them.”

“Do you want to try?”

Tattletale glanced at me and Grue.  “No point, I guess.  You’re blocking unofficial communications in the area.”

“Yes.  We have to hamper communication between the Nine if we want to catch them off guard.  You understand.”

“I do, and that’s totally the entire reason you’re doing that,” Tattletale said.  She glanced over in the direction of the fighting.  “How long before the area is bombed?”

“Can’t say.  On the record, as with your teammates, we’re forbidding you from entering the area, but I expect you’re doing so anyways.  Against my recommendation.”

“Absolved of blame,” Grue spoke.  His voice was tight, his body tense.

The Director ignored him.  “The moment I heard you were in the picture, I told my subordinates to change the time.  They’ll inform me about the new time of attack as soon as I’ve hung up.  It’s not a perfect solution, but perhaps your actions from this point will reveal something about your power and its limitations.  But please understand that we just can’t risk that you’ll inform the Slaughterhouse Nine about the scheduled attack.”

“And there’s a chance we’ll be collateral damage, out of the picture and out of your hair after the Nine are gone.”

“How sad, that you see monsters where none exist.”


“It was nice to finally talk with you, Tattletale.  You should go help your teammates, if you’re going to.”

“Fuck you, Piggot.”

There was no response, and Battery deemed the conversation over, putting away the phone.

In the brief period of silence that followed, while we got ourselves ready, a voice broke through, “Victoria-”

“Don’t,” Glory Girl snapped.  “I didn’t tell anyone what you did, but that’s the last nice thing I’m going to do for you, understand?  We’re not teammates.  We’re not sisters.  We’re not friends.”

“I’m sorry, Amy,” Tattletale said, “But we’ve got to go.”

We were moving a minute later, leaving the squad of heroes behind.  Looking over my shoulder, I could see them getting in formation, clustering around Cache, who was regaining consciousness.  Only Glory Girl stood apart, her arms folded.

Wasn’t quite sure about the story there, but I was getting a sense of it.

I could feel Amy tapping my arm.

“What?” I had to raise my voice to be heard.

“Drop me off,” she spoke into my ear.

It took a few seconds to get the message to Grue and come to a complete stop.  Tattletale stopped Bentley a hundred feet ahead.  Trickster and Sundancer looked back with mild curiosity.  Their costumes didn’t reveal much about their expressions.

“Not thinking straight,” Amy said, “Not enough to go into a situation like this.  Don’t want to get bombed.  Um.”

“It’s fine,” I said.  “Still willing to help?”

She nodded.

“I’m going to send you the bugs I can’t use.  If you want to make more bugs that can relay my signal, that’d be great.  If you can think of something else… I need firepower.”

“And we’re going to be short on mobility if we need to make a run for it,” Grue said.  “Too many of us for two dogs that can carry people, unless we’re lucky and Genesis picked a form that works.”

We’d sent Regent’s group out with Shatterbird, Imp and Ballistic, with the idea that Genesis would meet them there.  They’d taken one of Coil’s trucks, since Bastard wasn’t old enough, big enough or trained enough to carry a rider.

“What am I supposed to make?”

“Figure it out, Amy.  If you can’t think of anything, the relay bugs are excellent.  Really.”

“Okay.”  She let me help her down.

“Skitter,”  Tattletale called out, “We should be close enough.  Want to pass them a message?”

I nodded.  I had six of the relay bugs, and it took only a minute to set them up so they formed a chain, extending my reach for an additional six city blocks in one direction.  Eight and a half in total.

I swept them outward, and the one at the furthest point lagged behind.  Still, it gave me the opportunity to cover a wide area.  Bugs mobilized throughout, and I began funneling the less offensive ones back toward Amy.  No-see-ums, earthworms, caterpillars and roughly half of the houseflies in the area began filtering back.  I maintained some of the dragonflies and other mobile bugs for the sake of getting a feel for the area.

I could sense Regent’s group, running to cover.  Ballistic was bombarding Crawler, relying on the impacts to drive the brute back.  Crawler was fast -and he was agile, with preternatural reflexes- but Ballistic was unloading on him with projectiles that moved faster than sound.  Crawler dodged only two in three, and Ballistic followed up on any successful hits with a series of shots to pound Crawler into the nearest available surface and pin him there.  Genesis had formed a body that was winged.  It resembled a pterodactyl with arms, a griffon or something in that vein.  She was making an effort to drop large chunks of rubble onto Crawler.  He was strong enough that it barely slowed him down, but time he spent hauling a section of wall off of himself was time for Ballistic to get his hands on material for another shot.  Shatterbird offered support with a constant hail of glass to harry Crawler and keep him from finding traction on the pavement.

Jack, Bonesaw, Mannequin… I found the former two in a parking lot.  My bugs sensed what I judged were Bonesaw’s mechanical spiders, tearing cars apart and converting the components into more spiders.  There was a group of people with her, shuffling behind them.

Mannequin was MIA.  That was bothersome.  He was able to detect and avoid my bugs, which meant he was a factor I had to keep in the back of my mind.

“Found them, except for Mannequin.  Amy?  Be careful.  I don’t know if Jack’s team is going to break the rules they set, but Mannequin could come after you.”

I was so used to dealing with my teammates, people who were experienced in this sort of thing, that I hadn’t expected much more than confirmation.  She looked legitimately scared at the prospect.

“Here,” I directed a ladybug into my palm and extended it towards her.  “Crush it, and I’ll come.  Or transmit some signal with my power.  You have my backup, understand?”

“Okay.”  She took it, but she didn’t look reassured.  The first bugs were flowing into her cupped hands.  I could feel nervous systems intermingling, two bugs becoming one, and that strange hollowness that told me I didn’t have a complete grasp on how they functioned, that there was a part of them that was beyond the reach of my power.

I drew out words with my bugs, on a surface of wall where Regent would be able to see.  ‘Evacuate.’

He ran his fingers through the bugs.  After a moment’s thought, I gathered them into a square, organized by rank and file.  It took me two tries, but I managed to make them move to form letters, then regroup.

He dragged his fingertip through the bugs to spell out a reply.  ‘Can’t.  We run we can’t keep crawler down’.

‘We’re coming,’ I wrote to him.

“Let’s go!”  I called out.  Tattletale turned in her seat and kicked Bentley to get him going.  Grue did the same for Sirius.

Having gathered as many bugs as I could, I drew my relay bugs back and spaced them around the perimeter of my own range, effectively extending it by a block in every direction.

“Have to stall Crawler long enough to make a run for it!”  I shouted.

“Have to do it in the next eight minutes!”  Tattletale called out.  Grue was getting Sirius to keep pace with Bentley, who was brawnier and slower.

“Bomb hits then?”

“Sometime after then.  Could be eight minutes and ten seconds, could be fifteen minutes!”

I swore under my breath.  Eight minutes made for a deceptively small amount of time.

The heroes were gathered.  I couldn’t set them apart.  With few exceptions, they each wore an identical costume with full body coverage.  There were subtle differences in height  and body shape, which let me identify the people at the extreme ends of the physical spectrum: Vista, who was the smallest, and Triumph, the most musclebound.  Weld wasn’t in the concealing costume, presumably to retain more of his shapeshifting capability.

Vista, Clockblocker, Weld, Flechette, Triumph, Miss Militia, Assault… Glory Girl, Battery, Cache and the ghostly bear were joining them.  That left two more I couldn’t place.  They moved in formation.

Might as well do what I could to help.  I drew out arrows and words on the ground, with names by each arrow to point them to Jack, Bonesaw and Crawler.  With the arrow length, I tried to indicate how far the distance was to each of the enemies in question.

They spent about ten seconds discussing it, then broke into a run, going for Jack and Bonesaw.  Good.

We reached the scene of the ongoing fight with Crawler.  Sundancer was off the dog and on the ground the second we could see him, creating her orb and increasing its size.  She was fireproof, but she didn’t have the ability to grant that benefit to others.  Once she was standing, the orb was free to grow.

There wasn’t much my bugs could do.  They settled on Crawler and found his flesh impenetrable.  I began preparing web nets, drawing lines of silk between my airborne bugs.  Amy’s relay bugs had afforded me the chance to pick up far more bugs than I otherwise might have.  My attention flickered over my swarm.

Nearly a million spiders.  They were only a relatively small percentage of the swarm itself.  I had more ants, termites, flies, aphids, gnats and beetles to form the bulk of my army.

I sent the more useless ones toward Amy.  Not so many that I overwhelmed her, but enough that she always had more at hand.

He’s big, he’s strong, he’s ridiculously tough, but he’s no Leviathan.

My spiders began weaving their threads into braids, the flying bugs directing them in and through loops of silk as the threads spooled out.  Where bugs couldn’t hover, they directed their flight into tight corkscrews to slow themselves.

I wondered if this was the most bugs I’d ever controlled.  The buzz of my power thrummed through me to the point that I was barely aware of myself and where I was standing.  It wasn’t just the number of  bugs, but the number of instructions.  Spiders were spooling thread, organizing by the amounts they had remaining.  Flying bugs were gathering in formations, carrying the slower bugs forward and maneuvering the spiders to spin webs.  Smaller bugs, the useless ones, I directed to Amy and formed into dozens of decoys.  Millions of instructions a second.

Estimates said that insects outnumbered people by two hundred million to one in worldwide population.  Part of that distribution was biased toward rainforests and other areas humans left uninhabited.

At the end of the day, that was just insects, and there were more creatures under my sway than the six-legged variety.  I could feel them in the earth, in the walls, beneath the pavement, even.  Even from the weeks after I’d left the hospital, I’d dismissed them as background noise, just sources to draw from in amassing my swarms.

Now, it felt different.  My range was extended, and it wasn’t because I was distracted, cornered, trapped.  As Crawler noticed us and shifted his position to keep us all in line of sight with his innumerable eyes, I had a few moments to think, to experience my power at its best.

We were so small.  Even in the scope of a single neighborhood, my power extending for roughly a thousand feet in every direction, it made us all seem tiny.  Even Crawler.

“Don’t use your orb on him,” Tattletale cautioned.  “Won’t do us any favors, and it’ll only make him stronger for the future.”

“Then what should I do?”

“There’s no civilians here.  Legend and the others have evacuated.”  I told her.  “The buildings are empty.

She nodded, apparently grasping my meaning.

“You go high, ‘Dancer, I go low?” Grue asked.

She nodded.

I held back as they advanced, ready to make their move.  Ballistic caught Crawler with a projectile, and the monster went sliding.  Shatterbird hit him with a wave of glass to keep him down, and Genesis swooped down to smash him over the head with the wreckage of a small car.

It did surprisingly little to keep him down.

Grue and Sundancer made their moves, Grue swamping Crawler in darkness while Sundancer brought her orb around into the face of the building.  With her miniature sun, she sheared through the concrete and metal, zig-zagging the orb through one floor.

The supports obliterated or melted, the building crashed down to the street with enough force that the rolling cloud of dust and was enough to drive us back.

He had to weigh several tons, but the building had him beat in that regard.

We hurried to gather.  Genesis landed.

“One minute, forty-five seconds,” Tattletale said, “More if we’re lucky.”

“Until?”  Regent asked.

“They’re bombing the area,” I explained.

Tattletale, Sundancer and Trickster found seats on Bentley’s back.  Bitch climbed up behind me.  Imp materialized, for lack of a better word, dropping the effect of her power.  That left her and Ballistic.

“Three people, two fliers?” Tattletale asked.

“Can carry one,” Regent said.  “Too tired to carry more.”  Shatterbird landed and wrapped her arms around him.

“I can try to carry the others,” Genesis’s voice sounded very normal considering her gargoyle-like face.  Bitch handed her a length of chain.

“One minute and fifteen seconds.  Not sure if it’s paranoia or my power, but I think the bomb’s going to hit closer to the deadline than not.”

Genesis gathered the chain into a loop.  As Imp and Ballistic found their seats and Genesis made motions to take off, there was the sound of shifting rubble.

“Damn it!”  Grue swore.  “Go!  Go!’

One minute, give or take.

We ran.  There was the sound of more rubble shifting out of place, and then a guttural laughter.  It sounded more like it came from multiple gargantuan people laughing in sync than it did from the one monster.

“More!”  His voice was even more unnatural, a jumble of individual sounds that only barely came together into something like a word.  Not so different from when I spoke through my swarm.  “Fight me!”

The impacts of heavy footfalls were audible as Crawler broke into a run, giving chase.  They were even tactile.  He was more than a hundred feet behind us, but I could feel his impacts shake Sirius.

As my bugs struggled to catch up, my swarm sense felt Crawler stop, rearing up on his two hindmost legs.  He caught at one corner of a building and tore, twisting his body to throw a chunk of brick.

“Look out!”  I shouted.

My words were too slow.  The rock collided with Genesis, catching one wing.  She collapsed to the ground, and both Ballistic and Imp fell the fifteen or so feet to the ground.  Imp shrieked as she landed.


Crawler’s pause to grab concrete had bought me time to get my bugs into position.  They swept over Crawler, laying down braided ropes of silk joined by adhesive lines and thin gossamer.  Even caterpillars began offering their assistance, using the silk they produced for cocoons.

He was a big guy, but it was a lot of silk.

I could see how it hampered his movements.  There was even something approximating surprise on his face as he dropped down so all six legs were firmly on the ground, and his forelimbs didn’t extend as far as he’d expected.  He tried to run and found himself hampered further.

Crawler sported two or three tons of physical prowess, and his power had fine tuned him into a physical specimen like few others.  My bugs had millions of years of evolution to refine the quality of their silk and their ability to produce it.

For now, at the very least, I had the advantage.

“Genesis, can you run?”

Fuck.  No,” Genesis spoke.  “Made these claws for grabbing.”

True enough, her forelimbs and rear limbs were more like clawed hands than feet or hooves.

“Imp, Ballistic, run!”

It wasn’t enough.  We had too much distance to cover before we could be sure of our safety.  Or of Imp and Ballistic’s safety, anyways.  Even with another two minutes, or another five- well, people weren’t that fast as a rule, and neither Imp nor Ballistic were runners.  It looked like Imp had hurt herself in the fall.

“Tattletale!”  I shouted.  “Take Imp!  Bentley’s strong enough to take four!”

“Got it!”  She cried, steering Bentley around and their group scooped up Imp, pulling her up onto Tattletale’s lap.  Four people, but three of them were girls in good shape.

Sirius wasn’t as strong, and Grue was heavy, Bitch wasn’t exactly slight, and Ballistic was built like a football player.  Between the four of us, I doubted Sirius had it in him.  Not if we wanted to move fast.

“Grue!”  I called out.

“Don’t you fucking dare!”  He turned his head around.

I disentangled from Bitch’s grip, avoided Grue’s clutching hand and slid to the ground.  I didn’t land with both feet under me, so I tipped over and rolled.

“Ballistic, take my seat!”  I shouted, as I got my feet under me.  I glanced behind me at Crawler and broke into a run.

“Skitter!”  Grue barked the word.

“Just go!  I have a plan!”

Easier to lie when I was shouting, my face hidden.

They picked up Ballistic and bolted.

I was left behind in moments.

“Run, little girl!”  Crawler’s broken voice carried, a rumble so low I could feel it.  “I’ll get free!  I’ll catch you!  I’ll hold you down and lick your skin until it melts!  I’ll pluck your eyes out with the tip of my tongue!  I have your scent and you cannot ever stop me!  You cannot ever escape!”

Even the practiced motions of running couldn’t take the edge off.  Running had been my reprieve for so long, my escape long before I’d had costumes and the distractions of everything that was involved there.  It wasn’t doing anything to help the panic that was taking hold of me.

I wracked my mind for something, anything that might serve as an option.  Sewer?  Could I get down into the sewer or storm drain?

It was a possibility, though with the structural integrity of the city being what it was, it could just as easily be suicidal.

My bugs.  Could I lift myself up the same way I’d lifted up the small tools?  More silk, millions more bugs?

I couldn’t take the chance it wouldn’t work.

The one minute mark had surely passed.  I was on borrowed time, now, trusting my fate to luck.

Could Genesis form a new body in time?  It took her minutes, and I didn’t have that time to spare.  She would have to find me, too.

No.  Genesis couldn’t help.

And the heroes?  I searched in the direction of Jack and Bonesaw.  The heroes were fending off a group of people.  The group was larger than it had been the last time my focus was on them.  She was recruiting civilians?

The heroes were falling back, gathering in formation.  Cache was using his power, if I was judging right.  I felt some of my bugs disappear from existence as he used his power on members of his team.  Putting them in some extradimensional compartment.  The others around him, one member of the Wards, Ursa and Weld.

The good guys were preparing for an imminent bombing run.  Jack and Bonesaw were making a run for it, too.  They’d sensed something was wrong from the way the heroes were acting.

Their chances were about as good as mine.

Amy.  She was turning to run.  The others crossed her path, shouted a warning.

She used her power on the bug she was touching, making a final, haphazard connection.

My grip over the relay bugs had been tenuous.  This wasn’t much better.  One bug, and I couldn’t sense enough about it.  I didn’t have that innate grasp of its biology, of how it operated, or the instincts that drove it.

It would have to do.

I chanced a look over my shoulder and regretted it.  Crawler was bound tighter than ever, caught by my bugs, but the look threw me off-balance.  I stumbled, nearly falling over.

I managed to keep my feet under me, righting myself, but the movement of my leg made me aware of the strain.

Come on, come on.

We met each other halfway.  Listening to my power, it turned in midair, so its back was to me.  It skidded on the ground.

Six and a half feet long, five feet across and five feet tall.  A giant beetle.  It looked like she had used a Hercules beetle as a starting point, but built it broader, with larger, longer legs and two forelimbs with what looked like praying mantis style blades.  Sporting a black shell that looked almost ragged, the tips a gray-white, it also featured a single large horn that curved overhand, pointing down at the ground.

“Please,” I prayed.  I swung one leg over its thorax and gripped the horn.  It was an awkward posture, making me feel like I’d fall forward and face-plant on the ground with the slightest excuse.  “Come on.”

It ran on the ground, slower than me.  Its shell parted behind me, revealing an overlarge, complicated set of wings.  They began to beat, thrumming with sixty or seventy flaps a second, powered by an efficient machine of what I took to be a combination of biological hydraulics and musculature.

“Come on,” I begged it.

I felt it begin to lift.  I even pushed with my toes, as if that could give it what it needed.

We accelerated, my hair whipping behind me as we gained a dramatic boost in speed.  But our trajectory was almost directly forward, not up.  I kicked at the ground as we landed, as if that could lift us into the air.  It wasn’t working.

It dawned on me why.

My bugs normally had ingrained knowledge of how to function.  This was a new lifeform.  It had all the necessary parts.  Amy had probably scaled everything up, given it every advantage in design I could want, counteracting all the problems that came with being proportionately larger.

But at the end of the day, it didn’t know how to fly.

I used my power to control every movement.  I felt it accelerate again, and tilted our orientation.  I felt myself shift slightly as I found myself almost directly on top, my legs gripping the underside of his thorax, and I overcompensated.  We both crashed to the ground.  A ten or twelve foot drop for me.  My armor absorbed the worst of the impact, but I felt my forehead hit pavement.  I always thought of the concussion I’d suffered whenever I took a blow to the head.

“Come on!”  I growled the words, scrambling to my feet.  “Don’t be hurt, don’t be hurt.”

He was okay.  I could examine him with my power, I just couldn’t comprehend him in the same natural, instinctive manner.  It took attention, focus.  With my direction, he used a flutter of his wings and the points of his scythe-tipped claws to flip over so he was ready as I reached him.  I mounted him and tried again.  We repeated the takeoff process, faster this time.

We lifted off on the first try.  I controlled my breathing, focused my attention on him, tried to avoid that same reflexive compensation that came with a shift of my balance.

When I account for the wing compartments and the amount of space that the wings take up at the back of the shell, He’s not much bigger than a motorcycle.

Relating him to a motorcycle helped, giving me the confidence to lean gently into the turns he needed to make in shifting with the air currents.

A laugh bubbled out from between my lips, one part hysteria to two parts relief and three parts exhilaration.  I was higher up than some six-story buildings and I’d barely realized it.

Amy had heard what Grue said about our possible shortage of transportation and my lack of firepower.  She’d supplied something to serve in the time allotted, with the resources I’d provided.  She’d put this together in minutes.

Growing confident in the mechanics of flying, I swooped us down.  We were faster than the others on the ground, and we passed them with ease.  I loosened my deathgrip on the horn to extend one arm out to one side.  A wave, a salute.

That done, I pulled up.

Crawler, still bound, was unable to tear through the silk as fast as the millions of spiders were connecting it.  If there was only a way to stop the bombing, I could do something to pin him down, buy time for the heroes to arrange more permanent accommodations.

But there wasn’t.  I could feel the effects as Clockblocker froze Cache in time, then froze himself.  His suit, at least.  It was only the four of them – Clockblocker, Cache, Ursa and Weld.

The bomb was about to hit, and I could only guess if we were going to be out of the blast zone.

Last Chapter                                                                                                Next Chapter

114 thoughts on “Prey 14.4

  1. Paragraph starting “I could sense Regent’s group …” You have Ballistic attacking Ballistic in one sentence. Should be Ballistic attacking Crawler.

  2. Okay, this was pretty amazing- and Skitter on her epic mount was a pretty great image, though the implications of Amy’s power doing that are frankly terrifying!

    The suspense right nos is pretty epic, too.

    And Piggot is an incredible bastard. We’ll see if the ‘magnificent’ part holds through this salvo though.

    Piggot refers to Siberian’s other self as a ‘he’ before finding out that it’s a man.
    “prenatural reflexes,” Preternatural? Also, maybe replacing the comma with a dash would work better?
    “winged, a pterodactly” Pterodactyl. Also, maybs replacing the comma there with a dash or a semicolon?
    ““Here,” I sent her a ladybug.” This is neat, but perhaps having her hold it out or the like might work better- after all, she’s shoving swarms of bugs at Amy already, so it isn’t clear how Amy’s supposed to know what she is referring to. It still reads well enough but the clarification might help.
    Alec has better spelling and punctuation writing on a wall of bugs than he does on a cellphone. I just found that funny to imagine; though I suppose given that it’s actually a surface to write on instead of keys it makes sense.
    “Six minutes made for” Tattletale had just said 8- though maybe Taylor was counting travel time.
    “specimen unlike few others” Like few others?
    “excuse. “Come” Extra space there.
    “Crawler, still bound, unable” This is hard to figure; it feels very clipped, staccato, without a ‘was’ there. Like a headline. Not sure if it works in the context.
    “heroes to arrange more permanent.” Missing word, I guess- though as it is would work if it ended with an ellipsis as a trailing off thought, since her next sentence works well as an interruption of the thought.

  3. Bad. Ass. Badass.

    Assuming they don’t get blown up. But I’ll take the hero riding a giant beetle as a que to be optimistic.

  4. Excellent chapter. I’m disappointed, as usual, by the actions of the putative heroes. Their premature withdrawal undoubtedly gave Jack and Bonesaw enough of an opportunity to get to safety.

      • True. True. The Director had better hope that a few black hole bombs (or something similar) manage to utterly obliterate Crawler, though. I shudder to think of what he’ll become if he’s badly wounded and survives this assault.

  5. Giant flying beetle mount. Is. Ridiculously awesome. ‘Nuff said.

    I wonder if Amy could compensate for the custom bugs’ flaw if she used her power on the nervous system? I mean, we’re talking about modifying the instincts of a creature, or even making up new instincts from whole cloth. That’s starting to get pretty precise. Then again, judging from what she did to Glory Girl, her power IS, indeed, very precise. For that matter, could she edit memories? Transfer knowledge from one person to another by copying brain patterns or something?

    …Yanno, I just realized something about the giant beetle. (Is he getting a name? I hope he’s getting a name.) He doesn’t actually have the necessary instincts to move around and stuff. So, if Taylor isn’t piloting him, he’s basically just a big dumb ol’ vegetable who’ll lounge around without doing anything. …I don’t know, I just find that hilarious for some reason. Don’t judge me.

    • But if Amy did that with the bugs, she’d have to admit she CAN work with the brain, and chooses not to. It’s basically the same thing.

    • The name seems to be Atlas from the story tags. The existence of a tag and an explicit gender(though that might just be Taylor anthropomorphizing) implies that this might not be the last we see of him…

  6. I’m really curious how Battery’ll be handling this. She’s supposed to get Shatterbird and Siberian out alive (my first clue that Siberian could had a weakness was just that). That seems like it’ll be tricky, though I doubt the bomb’ll work the way it ought to. It’s too early for things to go well (even though they rarely do).

    • I’m still hoping the woman is a good enough person to not actively work for that goal. You leave Siberian alone long enough or piss her off enough and she’ll leave the city on her own. Shatterbird is already out of her reach. All Battery has to do to fulfill her murky promise while staying true to her morals is to pretty much avoid Siberian. Hopefully…

  7. I can’t help but think that this is the point when Mannequin grabs Skitter and hawls her into the blast radius. Still, once again Skitter does something crazy and survives by luck, won;t Grue be pissed/relieved. Maybe she’ll claim she already knew about the beetle when she got off Sirius.

    Also the relationship between the Undersiders and Travellers seems to be improving well. Grue nicknaming Sundancer and Skitter sacrificing herself for one of them. I hope they can all become good friends. Not least for giving the possibility for a truly awesome movie night. What would be the movie choices they’d all make? Any thoughts, my fellow commenters?

    The heroes have pretty much fallen completely for me now, Piggot just did something outright villainous, put confirmed soft-villains in danger while they tried to help and thusly went even further than Armsmaster’s mega fuck-up. And not one of them really tried to fix things. Heck, Glory Girl was the worst of it, is she channelling Shadow Stalker or something? I genuinely cannot think of a single thing she has done that would suggest any real ‘good’ motivation, she’s just a violent egotist working for the government line. Meanwhile I think Amy just fell firmly into the Evil Sleepover club, that’s three girls Skitter has managed to be ridiculously awesome too. Three very pretty young girls. The reputation she’s headed for…and if she adds Dinna Abbot to them…

    Still, overall this is an excellent turn after the misery of the last arc. No matter how this ends, this was a shining moment of pure epic. Villainous sacrifice and Heroic incompetence, Worm how I do love you.

      • Look at the exact words: “not VERY pretty” and only so compared to Glory Girl (who is described as having teen-model looks). so pretty goodlooking by herself…

        • Her sister was as different from her as night was from day
          rest my point

          2.x Interlude:
          “Her sister was as different from her as night was from day. Where Victoria was beautiful, tall, gorgeous, blonde, Amy was mousy. Victoria’s costume showed off her figure, with a white one-piece dress that came to mid-thigh (with shorts underneath) an over-the shoulder cape, high boots and a golden tiara with spikes radiating from it, vaguely reminiscent of the sun’s rays or the statue of liberty. Amy’s costume, by contrast, was only a shade away from being a burka. Amy wore a robe with a large hood and a scarf that covered the lower half of her face. The robe was alabaster white and had a medic’s red cross on the chest and the back.

          “Our identities are public,” Amy retorted, pushing the hood back and scarf down to reveal brown frizzy hair and a face with freckles spaced evenly across it.”

              • Let us have our fantasies wildbow! I like to imagine Taylor swinging both ways and building up a nice little harem with Sierra, Char, Amy and Lisa with Brian shaping up as their token guy.

                Sure it’s probably not happening in actual Wormverse but…that’s why they’re fantasies 🙂

          • Of course it’s a generalization! *snorts*
            Plain is in keeping with her personality too.
            (maybe it’s just that i LIKE brown frizzy hair and freckles).

    • The Travelers are not soft villains. They have 16 confirmed kills, and are suspected in the deaths of 40 more people. Also, getting rid of regent would ultimately be a good thing for the world. Between his sociopathy and his powers he is an unnaceptable risk. If he took someone like Legend he could murders thousands with ease.

      • 40 – almost certainly the result of Noelle getting loose, somethibng they are actively devoted to dealing with.

        The other sixteen, we have seen clearly that Trickster is the only one even remotely likely to have killed someone willingly, the other’s balk at even maiming a regenerator. However considering how hard it is to avoid killing someone with Ballistic and Sundancer’s powers and Sundancer’s suggested guilty feelings, I would guess those sixteen are mostly or all due to them accidentally killing.

  8. “Bitch!” I shouted. ”Take Imp! Bentley’s strong enough to take four!”
    She didn’t respond, but she steered Bentley around and their group scooped up Imp, pulling her up onto Tattletale’s lap. Four people, but three of them were girls in good shape.

    Is Taylor really talking to Bitch, instead of Tattletale? Because Bitch is on Sirius. That doesn’t mean she can’t give commands to Bentley, but it seems a bit confusing.

  9. Now then, I have taken the liberty of preparing a musical number for Director Piggot and Coil at this time that seems appropriate. It’d be more so with Siberian, but whatever. The parts in quote are the male singer for Coil. I did the best I could, but it’s rather hard to work in good rhymes with the song I decided worked best for this occasion.

    Set to the tune of “A Little Priest” ( from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, I give you…”A Little Vista”

    Seems a downright shame…

    Seems an awful waste…
    Such a nice, big arsenal
    Wot’s ‘er name has…
    Nor it can’t be traced…
    The villains need a lift,
    blow them into space…
    Think of it as thrift,
    As a gift,
    If you get my drift!


    Seems an awful waste…
    I mean, with the price of napalm
    What it is,
    When you get it,
    If you get it…


    Good, you got it!

    Take, for instance, Lady Moon-E and her bomb shop!
    Bus’ness never better using only pussycats and toast!
    And a pussy’s good for maybe six or seven at the most!
    And I’m sure they can’t compare as far as blast!


    “Mrs. Lovett, what a charming notion”

    Well, it does seem a waste…

    “Eminently practical
    And yet appropriate as always!”

    It’s an idea…

    “Mrs. Piggot, how I’ve lived
    Without you all these years, I’ll never know!
    How delectable!
    Also undetectable!”

    Think about it!
    Lots of other gentlemen’ll
    Soon be comin’ for a crime,
    Won’t they?
    Think of
    All them

    “How choice!”


    “For what’s the sound of the world out there?”

    What, Mr. Coil?
    What, Mr. Coil?
    What is that sound?

    “Those crunching noises pervading the air!”

    Yes, Mr. Coil!
    Yes, Mr. Coil!
    Yes, all around!

    “It’s man devouring man, my dear!”

    And then who are we to deny it in here?

    (spoken) “These are desperate times,
    Mrs. Piggot, and desperate measures are called for!
    Here we are, now! Hot out of the oven!
    What is that?”

    It’s Vista. Have a little Vista.

    “Is it really good?”

    Sir, it’s too good, at least-a!
    Then again, she didn’t commit sins of the flesh,
    So it’s pretty fresh.

    “Awful lot of fat.”

    Only where it sat.

    “Haven’t you got Cricket, or something like that?”

    No, y’see, the trouble with Cricket is
    ‘Ow do you know it’s deceased?
    Try the Vista!

    “(spoken) Heavenly!
    Not as hearty as Flechette, perhaps,
    but then again, not as bland as Gallant, either!”

    And good for business, too — always leaves you wantin’
    Trouble is, we only get it on weekends!

    Faultline’s rather nice.

    “If it’s for a price.”

    Order something else, though, to follow,
    Since no one should swallow it twice!

    “Anything that’s lean.”

    “Well, then, if you’re Japanese and loyal,
    You might enjoy Oni Lee!
    Anyway, it’s clean.
    Though of course, it tastes of wherever it’s been!

    “Is that Spitfire,
    in the fryer?”

    Mercy no, sir, don’t mock,
    You’ll see it’s Shamrock

    “Looks cuter,
    More like Newter!”

    No, it has to be Shamrock —
    It’s green!

    “The history of the world, my love –“

    Save a lot of graves,
    Do a lot of relatives favors!

    “Is those below serving those up above!”

    Ev’rybody saved,
    And they’ll owe us plenty of favors!

    “How gratifying for once to know”
    That those above will serve those down below!

    (spoken) Now let’s see, here… We’ve got
    “Something… pinker.”
    “Something faster.”
    “Something more dilute.”
    “Something from Quaker.”
    (Thinks)“Sssss…..(mouths) Stranger?”

    Lovely bit of Bitch.

    “If I had an itch.”

    Then again there’s Tattletale
    If you want it with ale
    And you like it stitched!

    Try the Panacea,
    Peak of her career!

    “That looks pretty rank.”

    Well, she’s dank,
    enough she sank
    right here.
    Never really sold.
    Maybe she got old.

    “Have you any beetle?”

    Next week, so I’m told!
    Beetle isn’t bad till you smell it and
    Notice ‘ow well it’s been greased…
    Stick to Vista!

    (spoken) Now then, this might taste a little metallic,
    but then of course it’s… Armsmaster!
    “No, this isn’t Armsmaster — it’s Burnscar!”
    ‘Ow can you tell?
    “It’s piping hot!”
    Then blow on it first!

    “The history of the world, my sweet –“

    Oh, Mr. Coil,
    Ooh, Mr. Coil,
    What does it tell?

    “Is who gets eaten, and who gets to eat!”

    And, Mr. Coil,
    Too, Mr. Coil,
    Who gets to sell!

    “But fortunately, it’s also clear”

    (Both) That ev’rybody goes down well with beer!

    Since Oni Lee doesn’t appeal to you, ‘ow about… Mush?
    “Too salty. I prefer Miss Militia.”
    With, or without her privates? ‘With’ is extra.

    “What is that?”

    It’s Grue.
    Finest in the venue.
    And we have some Kaiser rolls peppered
    With actual Kaiser on too!
    And I’ve just begun —
    Here’s Battery, so oily
    It’s served with a doily,
    Have one!

    “Put it on a bun.
    Well, you never know if it’s going to run!”

    Try the Night,
    Fried, it’s a delight!

    “No, the Pure are really
    Too coarse and too mealy!”

    Then Lung,
    That’s more fun!

    “Yes, and always arrives overdone!
    I’ll come again when you have SKITTER on the menu!”

    (spoken) Wait! True, we don’t have Skitter yet,
    but we’ve got something you might fancy even better.
    “What’s that?”

    “Have charity towards the world, my pet!”

    Yes, yes, I know, my love!

    “We’ll take the supers that we can get!”

    High-born and low, my love!

    We’ll not discriminate great from small!
    No, we’ll serve anyone,
    Meaning anyone,
    (Both) And to anyone
    At all!

  10. “Particularly vulnerable. She can’t use her power on her real self, to extend her invincibility over it.”
    There seems to be a little mix up on the he’s and she’s here since tattletale knows the gender of siberian’s controller shouldn’t it be ‘he can’t us his power…’. Amazing chapter as always anyway. I have yet to find another online book on this level and have been telling everyone about it. Good work.

    • Nope, no mix-up. They use “she” when talking about Siberian and “he” when talking about her controller, as if they were separate people. So “she” can’t us “her” power on “him”.

      • Aha thanks for that…my mind can barely process normals words orders in a sentence. I sometimes end up reading the last word first and third word second… I think its cos i can’t wait to get to the end of the sentence so i read ahead…like with books.

  11. Hm, another thought; Skitter just caused herself some future trouble, I think- she just gathered up a massive amount of bugs and gathered them right under a firebombing- her arsenal is gonna be severely reduced after all this I guess…

  12. I wonder why Piggot thinks that she can overcome the effect of Siberian’s (and Crawler’s) power with a large enough bomb, but that Clockblocker and Cache’s power will withstand the same explosion.

    At this point she might very well end up killing 4 of her own people, free crawler from his prison and make him a lot tougher have Siberian shrug of the explosion and have Jack and Bonesaw escape as well as seiously pissing of all villains and unaligned para-humans in the city. That’s the worst case scenario, she probably will get a bit more lucky, but I simply can’t see things going according to plan.

    • …There is only 1 unaligned parahuman in the city,and she has other priorities,with her family dead or havin s9’s faces and all

    • 1. It’s not just “a large enough bomb”. It’s a whole pile of Bakuda’s leftover ordinance. The things that come out when those go off don’t have to bear any resemblance to normal explosions.
      2. Cache and the others are protected by Clockblocker’s power, which is so tough that “invulnerability” isn’t even the best word for it. Imagine it from an inside perspective. You see one view of the outside world one moment, and a different one the next moment, and somebody tells you that you missed something. What happened in between? From your point of view, nothing. There was no time in between, and nothing can happen without time to happen in. You’re perfectly preserved from the power’s initiation to its endpoint, the same way you’re perfectly preserved during intervals of less than the Planck time– nothing can have happened to change you, therefore you are unchanged.
      The worst possible outcome is that during your absence, the area around you became hazardous to life in some lasting way, and you’re plopped back into that danger when you rejoin the flow of events.

      Frankly the scariest possibility for the Protectorate here is that asset 1 and asset 2 cancel each other out. It would suck if Clockblocker dropped them into an area that had had the ground transmuted to lava, or the atmosphere filled with poison gas, or something.

  13. I can’t even imagine the kind of power and reflexes it would take to consistently dodge large projectiles that move at supersonic speeds. I also can’t imagine how tough you would have to be to only be slowed by the impact.

    I wonder why Tattletale revealed all that info, but it did made me realize that perhaps Tattletale is still leading the group behind the scenes (like she was before we knew anything about Coil). She’s a clever girl who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, so it’s possible. Then again, it doesn’t seem like she has an agenda, so “leading” might be putting it too strongly. She might just be giving little nudges here and there.
    Typo: “tucker” should be “tucked”.
    Also, as Pinkhair, pointed out, Piggot refers to Siberian’s projector as “him” too early. Here’s the word before it so you can ctrl-F it: “discovered him”.

  14. do i overlook a votebutton for
    or do you realy stay in the top 3 there without votebutton?

    waiting for the bugexpress (public transportation possibel for your home endbringer devestated town today thanks to villan&healer Limited & Co. KG)

      • i bet there would be an increase of votes if you put anotherone next to the chapters (i for example vote from time to time, but didn’t notice the link here because i am mostly on the page of the current chapter and on that of the previus one.)

        • Topwebfiction is a funny thing. Even when I sit on top, I get relatively few visits from there.

          For example, on September 11th, I got: 40 people accessing Worm through Google, 22 from Webfictionguide, 12 from TV tropes, 10 from Spacebattles (a forum where I was mentioned a while back – I still get a steady flow of readers from there), 7 from Google Reader, 5 from Legion of Nothing and 5 from Topwebfiction. That’s only a segment of the big picture. Of all those people, I’d judge 25 or so were new readers who went to visit the first chapter and 12-15 went on to read through the archive. (Rough estimate, judging by the number of views per chapter to the early chapters).

          Topwebfiction is a great measuring stick for me being able to tell if my readers like what I’m reading (since they care enough to go and vote). But I think that it tends to cater to people who are already in a position to know about web serials/my web serial, so it doesn’t pull in new readers. At best, it’s a subtle encouragement to old readers who stopped to get caught up and get back into the story.

          So, I stress that I do very much appreciate that people are taking the time to get the word out and vote to express their enjoyment of the story. At the same time, I generally don’t bug people about Topwebfiction. It’s nice/flattering to be at the top, and I do get a few more hits that way (5 a day if I’m on top as compared to 2 or 3), but I don’t lose a ton of sleep over it, and I won’t start poking at my readers with sharp sticks to get them to go and vote there.

          The stuff that really benefits the story (and, sadly, requires more work from the readers) are things that are harder to work into the site infrastructure than a button. A big one is a recommendation on a forum: some cases have been responsible for some of Worm’s record viewership days – a passing mention on Spacebattles pulled in something like 90 new readers in one day, at one point. I recently saw someone on another forum talking about their ‘plot bunny’ (which I gather is a story idea that never took off) where they posed the idea of a JLA/Worm crossover with a snippet. JLA passes through an interdimensional portal, Zatanna comments on how Brockton Bay looked like a warzone, batman being stoic, and Joker saying hi to the Nine. I laughed out loud at that.

          But the person who posted that snippet (thanks!) and made that mention generated a stream of thirty or forty people visiting through that link. A few of those clicks were probably that person themselves, checking the link worked, except I did see a bump in readers from people who had their curiosity piqued. People who’d never heard of Worm nor had the opportunity to hear about it were now reading. That’s excellent.

          TV tropes is another big one. It’s a little more subtle, but I see new readers appearing from there every day, and it’s probably the biggest source I’ve got right now. It works like this: someone adds a link to Worm on ‘Heart is an Awesome Power’ – another person is doing a wiki walk and stumbles onto the page, they find Worm’s entry and they click through out of curiosity. Boom, new reader. Currently 71 pages linking to Worm. I often check to see if anyone’s added more – each (good, appropriate) link is one that increases the chance of a new reader finding the story.

          And reviews are another big one; every review seems to coincide with a bump in new readers. Going from an average of two million hits a day to two million two hundred (I’m making up numbers) in the wake of the review, then settling down to an average of two million one hundred. Few things make my day like a good review does.

          Anyways, I ramble.

          • (I’m making up numbers)
            so if i may ask: "what is the average amount of readers?"
            (some people have advertising for money, so i dont realy know if that is something that may be asked or is rude)

          • I get the impression it’s embarrassingly low compared to the web serial authors who do advertise, but Worm gets maybe 1200 views on the typical non-update day and close to 2k on update days.

            It’s steadily increasing, though. I mean, early August I was sitting at 800ish a day, topping 1k on update days. I got that mention on the Spacebattles forum and that increased to ~930/1400. A review on Webfictionguide thanks to Asmora in late August, and it bumped up to what it is now. Worm’s tending to keep more readers than it loses, so yeah, a mention to online buddies, a reference on some forum or chatroom or just a recommendation to a friend or family member goes a long way.

  15. …I had the freakiest thought, starting with ‘What if Siberian’s other self didn’t need to travel with her but was in Brockton Bay already?’ and had to double check the timeline to make sure it was wrong. Taylor’s mom didn’t die nearly long enough ago for Taylor’s dad to be Siberian…

  16. Not a comment to this chapter, but something relevant I came across while surfing the web:

    This article explains how there is currently only one piece of cloth made from spider silk in existence and how it needed an awesome amount of time and spiders to be produced:

    “Fourteen thousand spiders yields about an ounce of silk,” Godley said, “and the textile weighs about 2.6 pounds. The numbers are crazy.”

    Even if Taylor is far more efficient by directing the spiders herself than the method they used this still seems impossible. I guess we can either chalk it up to comic book science and acceptable breaks from reality or maybe Taylor has some previously unknown secondary powers to enhance the creatures she controls…

    • I’d love to own that thing. Not for decoration value. Or to use it for anything, really. I’d just look at it once in a while and think: “my carpet is tougher than steel”. And I’d be happy.

    • I know. I read that article (or one like it) a while before starting the story.

      Look at it this way:

      What they’re doing is extracting silk by force. Get the spider, hook it up to the machine, extract the silk by force. No control over the spinnerets, so it’s basically standard goop with none of the spider’s technique behind it. They then wove 96 strands at a time into threads, and wove those threads into the cloth.

      The silk extraction machine doesn’t remove every drop of silk. That’s fine to them because they’ll be using the same spiders a bit later to produce more, so it works out. Here, she can afford to/compel the spiders to, and she’s got a hell of a lot more spiders. Taylor’s producing finer cords (both through spinnerets and more, finer threads, and instead of making them into fabric, she’s making them into a net. Crawler isn’t -covered-, but it’s enough to prevent his range of movement. If he pulls, the strands stretch – between the flexibility and the strength of the material, they remain pretty durable. Anything that snaps gets connected back to the net or to Crawler. If he gives any slack at all, then more strands are connected so he can’t return to the position he was holding before and he loses ground.

      In terms of effectiveness, think in terms of layers of chicken wire that are being pulled tight, with every snapped segment being reconnected/tied to the existing structure.

      Big as he is, one needs leverage to exert the full extent of their strength.

      That’s my interpretation, anyways. If you don’t buy it you might have to just dismiss this as comic book science, yeah.

      • It is quite reasonable if you consider that spider silk is used to trap reasonably strong insects and/or insects flying at high speeds.
        As Taylor states, the spiders had millions of years of evolution doing just this: trapping strong armored creatures that would do anything to escape.

      • Well, you DID say there were “nearly a million spiders”, so you’ve definitely got the mass issue handled. (That would be around 71 ounces of threads — and as you pointed out, much better constructed thread that what the silly scientists were manufacturing.)

        You bring up an interesting point, though. I wonder how much of Crawler’s adaptations have been about escaping form being bound. Probably not much, since most people just want to damage or kill him. Thus, his exceptional strength (probably a few elephants-worth) is likely not optimized for the kind of thing he has to do to escape. It’s the same as the human hand, which is amazingly powerful for its mass at grabbing and squeezing, but really doesn’t require much material strength to bind it closed.

        (Or, if that doesn’t work for you, consider the fact that the surest way to survive a crocodile attack, aside from not going anywhere near crocodiles, is to wrap your arms around its closed snout and hold on for dear life.)



        • wasn’t crawlers power to regenerate parts more resistent to what damaged them?
          if so than he isn’t “resistent” to binding (grown in a way to easily break free of rope or chain etc.) since that doesn’t hurt him

      • Hell I’ve seen scary beyond belief footage of Bird Eating Spiders trapping birds in their webs so I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt here to Skitter trapping Crawler with enough time to prepare the webs and 10-20 city blocks worth of spiders.

  17. I’m just wondering about the repercussions of what Piggot revealed here. Especially after Amy digest what they planned to bomb the villains that helped defend the city. After her whole screwup during the endbringer event, She may even reconsider her allegiances.

    After this, I very much doubt she’d be confortable again helping the “heroes” Even if she didn’t go “evil mind control” mode.

    Still, how come Glory Girl seems to viciosly hate her? Did Amy “Love me” mind rape fail? Or when at night Glory Girl cries to sleep? Because she seems relatively normal, Shouldn’t she be a wreck by now?

    • Hate is the way that Glory Girl is using to cope with her feelings. She is probably in a lot of turmoil and we must remember that she is a very spoiled rich kid not used to self criticism or to adversity.

  18. So, what happened to Siberian? Did Legend just stop chasing her? Seems like a bad decision.

    Anyways, great chapter again!

    We got some back and forth between Piggot and Tattletale, and between heroes and villains. We get some action from the fight with Crawler, and an Epic Moment, where Skitter got her Beetle! Plus other stuff of course. I was loving Grue’s reaction, and the parts with Amy. Overall a very good chapter.

    Is the part where Regent writes back about crawler supposed to be lowercase? I thought it might have been written that way to show he rushed, but the sentence before Crawler was capitalized. Just something I noticed.

    This is definitely one of your top chapters so far Author. You’ve been knocking them out of the park in the last two arcs, and this is right up there with the rest. A little bit of everything and a cliffhanger at the end.

    I’ll try to help out more. A mention on a forum or two you said is good, and maybe I’ll learn how to edit a Wiki and try to put some time in there.

    Good luck! Great Chapter, have a good day!

  19. Awesome, yeah. Going to feed into Grue’s belief that Taylor is absurdly overconfident or an adrenaline junkie though.

    Amy’s contribution of relay bugs is one thing (it might just be messing around with nerves), but to make a huge flying bug like that, capable of lifting a person is surely going beyond ordinary physics? The incredible power/weight ratios of bugs aren’t things that scale well. I’m thinking of wetas in NZ which are these big bugs (up to 10 cm long) which feed on decaying wood. They look scary, but they’re not strong and they can’t move fast for terribly long.

    • The scaling of bugs does get mentioned in passing. As for the ability to fly, I read up on personal flight machines and jetpacks and I’m fairly confident that it’s within the realm of possibility for an insect.

      If Earth’s atmosphere hadn’t shifted and if birds hadn’t appeared as a natural predator, who knows what point the arthropods of the prehistoric period might have reached over the course of evolution? Amy’s just sort of skipping ahead to one theoretical point.

      • I remember my high school biology teacher taught us about the impossibility of giant bugs. He claimed that if you made bugs much bigger than they already are, they would break through their own exoskeleton. Something about volume increasing much faster than surface, if I remember correctly.
        Maybe I’m wrong or he’s wrong. Doesn’t matter. I mean, this is a world with zigzagging lasers, directable force fields, and various mind powers. Heck, the giant insect is a mash-up of other insects anyway, right? Who’s to say that their laws of physics have to look like ours?

        • Right, but you’re assuming it’s a direct 1:1 scale. Amy could have/would have increased the load bearing capacity of the legs, accounted for these structural weaknesses and compensated for them.

          There -were- giant bugs, once upon a time. They died out because of the emergence of a predator (the first bird) and because of changes in the atmosphere. It’s not a stretch of the imagination to say Amy could handle the second point with some kind of conversion or filtration system.

        • Who says Atlas doesn’t have an endoskeleton too? I mean, Amy’s basically inventing her own species, she can build them however she likes. The only requirement is a simple nervous system and a close enough similarity to the metaphysical concept of “bug” that Skitter can control them.

      • I wouldn’t agree there; creating a motorcycle sized beetle that can fly with the weight of a human on it requires a lot of very specific things; Insect flight in general is hard to scale up into human scale ornithopters, even using ultralight materials and efficient engines.

        I think it reads to the conclusion that Amy’s biocreations are basically like tinker devices in terms of how well they fit into the laws of nature.

        • I’m guessing Amy added quite a bit of under the exoskeleton improvements to make it a sustainable design.

          And really you have issues with a six foot bug but not with laser beams that can turn corners or a man literally being able to stop time? The giant bug is the least physics defying feat we’ve seen here.

  20. Maybe I missed something but it doesn’t look like anyone else has mentioned this: after creating the giant bug, it’s stated that Amy’s trying to evacuate on foot. The dog riders pass her, warn her, but don’t stop. Skitter then passes the dogs on her bug and Amy’s not mentioned again… left to die in the impact zone? Seems like Skitter kind of forgets about her?

  21. It just keeps getting better. I don’t know who you are but you are a wonderful author and I love you.
    I’m sorry if that was awkward…

  22. Small error I caught in my reread.

    Piggot nodded.  “Shadow Stalker debriefed us.  What do we know about this woman who controls-”

    How does Skitter know Piggot nodded if this is over the radio?

  23. Typo in opening lines of the chapter:

    “Me?” Tattletale quirked an eyebrow.

    “Sure,” Chariot said. Just behind and to one side of him, Glory Girl was glaring at Tattletale. She looked like she was ready to hit people. It was the kind of latent hostility I was used to seeing in Bitch.

    “Not terribly fair to my teammates, if it’s just a one-on-one conversation.”

    “Are you going to take this or not?” Chariot asked, his hand still extended in her direction.

    I think you got the hero’s name wrong. Chariot didn’t come.

  24. This may have been mentioned already in the comments, as I’m still reading this segment as I type this out.

    “No secrets. I’d planned to bait you here with the same subtle offers of information you praised me for earlier, but you’re here anyways,”

    The word ‘anyways’ doesn’t seem to fit Piggot’s usual informal vernacular. I would highly suggest editing it toward the more prim and exact version: ‘anyway’.

  25. btw: Carpet bombing isn’t really used any more, precision guided munitions are much more effective in most situations. A bunker buster on Crawler would probably cut him in half (though he’d probably survive) and you only need one little bomb in the right place to take out Jack for instance.

    I doubt this carpet bombing killed any villains.

  26. > “There’s no civilians here. Legend and the others have evacuated.” I told her. ”The buildings are empty.

    You’re missing an ending quote on this paragraph.

  27. “That’s insane.”
    “Was that Skitter?”
    This amused me a bit. It probably had a lot to do with the voice, and the lack of Bitch, but still…

    “When I account for the wing compartments and the amount of space that the wings take up at the back of the shell, He’s not much bigger than a motorcycle.”
    The He should not be capitalized. Unless Skitter decided to name the beetle He for now.

  28. Wow. This was an utterly, utterly awesome chapter. Yet another new use of bugs (the writing pad for Regent to communicate), some great monster-fighting (Crawler is still incredibly intimidating even when trapped – I find myself picturing him as Zurvan, the primal zerg from Starcraft II Heart of the Swarm), and then to top it all off, an utter Crowning Moment Of Awesome with the flying motorbike beetle. Just fantastic!

    • I agree. Was going to ask the same question. Didnt she just say she couldnt do something similar with Bitch’s dogs just a few updates back?

      • Amy said she couldn’t create mass from nowhere like Bitch’s power appears to do with the dogs. Skitter provided the biomass by shipping her loads and loads of “useless” bugs.

  29. “Piggot nodded. ” I found this really a jarring shift of perspective from cinematic to omniscient. I had to stop and gather my wits for thirty seconds, searching back through the text to see if I’d missed Piggot arriving on the scene, or the fact that it was a video phone. Anyway, I figure it’s not what was intended!

  30. How could Piggot possibly be that stupid. Basically, betraying her allies like that is at least as likely to break the truce as it is to kill the Nine, and that would mean that the Endbringers would start to win consistently. Every single battle would turn into Newfoundland, until there was no more land left and humanity was extinct except for Crawler if you still think he counts.

  31. >“The buildings are empty.

    Missing quotation mark.

    >When I account for the wing compartments and the amount of space that the wings take up at the back of the shell, He’s not much bigger than a motorcycle.

    Is He’s name He, or what?

    PANACEEEEAAAAaaaa… Panacea? Wow, you actually did something useful?

  32. So her swarm is now executing millions of instructions per second? That’s getting into CPU territory. Soon she’ll be having them execute programs.

    It’s perfect. If any of the programs go wrong, she can blame it on a bug in the system!

  33. “The supports obliterated or melted, the building crashed down to the street with enough force that the rolling cloud of dust and was enough to drive us back.” Not sure what the “and” is doing here.

  34. Something that I don’t understand how no one else took issue with is Clockblocker. If his power doesn’t work on his actual body and he was forced to use it on his costume, then he couldn’t possibly survive the bombing. If he’s trapped in his costume he still needs to breathe, which means air can get to him, which means the heat *and pressure waves* of the bombs will kill him (and there’s no telling what sorts of things Bakuda’s bombs might do to him). Has it been revealed that he can use his power on himself?

    • Someone else commented recently that he might have a small portable air system inside his suit for emergencies where he’d have to turn his suit completely impervious or close the airvents (or stop however he gets the air inside) before freezing the suit. I had honestly never realized this issue prior to reading that.

  35. Creeping feeling that Piggot did more harm than good to their chances of killing Jack here. Or any of the S9 that they were fighting. It’s so short sighted with so little information about the S9, especially considering Crawler. It’s almost unfathomable that Piggot went head long into just.. bombing a part of the city, with the off chance of maybe, perhaps, that it would even work. Not like that’s how it was in her mind, but absolutely no reconnaissance with the people actually winning against the S9, and all of the Protectorate’s stubbornness to even talk on equal footing with the Undersiders.. is just.. No wonder the heroes have been so far behind in taking down any of the major villains. Piggot is so set on the Lawful scale that it’s teetering into flat out Lawful Evil, even when the city is falling apart.

    There’s a lot I forgive the plot for, mainly because my frustrations are with how I see the day-to-day world working ideally (and it’s all the more believable when things here play out in the same frustrating manner as they do in real life), and in part because these things tend to have a good reason for it later, whether it’s someone’s (well written) motivations or the realistic (not without frustrations) approach on how people act. But there’s there’s times like Piggot dropping a small scale carpet bomb where I can’t help but feel that.. some misfortunes are for the sake of further development later, keeping things out of Skitter’s reach in terms of big or small victories.

    I try to hold my tongue, typically because in the next chapter there’s at least one or more character to mention these things and be the voice of the audience. My mindset is the idea that someone would have at least cracked once under the frustrating circumstance Piggot and others are putting the heroes in, keeping them from making any substantial progress to being actual *heroes.* Similar in the way that the Merchants cracked and went wild, heroes would have similar breaking points, turn rogue if not given enough elbow room to do any good while supposed villains did all the people saving. Or the very least, rebel against Piggot and her decisions. Especially as a non-parahuman. For selfish or unselfish reasons, I know there’d be a small few heroes that’d still be willing to help the Undersiders and Travelers. Even if it’s to suck up the fact they’re working with villains, however briefly, while Slaughterhouse 9 kicks the city while it’s down after Leviathan.

    I know I’m still gonna read, and enjoy, and stick all the way until the end, and I’m even anticipating the sequel to this series. But there’s a lot of points that are increasingly harder to swallow in terms of frustrating events. . . . I kind of lost my train of thought after this…

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